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We didn't need Mueller to tell us Ravens, NFL bungled Rice scandal

Ravens reporter Aaron Wilson talks about the release of former FBI director Robert Mueller III's investigative report on the NFL's handling of Ray Rice's domestic incident in Atlantic City. (Kevin Richardson)

The long-awaited Mueller report is out and the only thing you're going to be shocked by is the lack of any shocking revelations in the 96-page document commissioned by Roger Goodell to scrutinize mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal by the Ravens and the NFL.

Here are the results of the expensive and time-consuming investigation in a nutshell: There's no evidence that the damning second elevator video that showed Rice punching his future wife at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City came into the possession of the NFL or the team before it became public, but there is plenty of evidence that neither tried hard to get it.

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In other words, former FBI director Robert Mueller and his staff spent the past four months confirming that the league and the Ravens badly bungled the Rice situation, which everybody pretty much had figured out long before investigators started delving into the scandal.

There are some interesting particulars in the report, such as the description of the incident that was relayed from an Atlantic City police officer to Ravens director of security Darren Sanders in late February and — second hand — to Ozzie Newsome, Dick Cass and John Harbaugh, but somehow never got forwarded to the commissioner's office.

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By the time it got to Cass, the incident was being portrayed at The Castle more as a fight than as an assault, though the original police report clearly states that Rice struck Janay Palmer, "rendering her unconscious."

"Cass recalls that Sanders described Palmer as the aggressor and that, in defending himself, Rice slapped her, she fell into a wall, and she hit her head on a rail," the Mueller report said. "Cass also recalled Sanders describing both Rice and Palmer as very drunk, and that it was not clear whether Palmer's loss of consciousness was the result of the strike, her head hitting the wall, or her intoxication. Cass, Sanders, and Newsome did not relay this information to League personnel."

Needless to say, Ravens officials were so busy trying to figure out a way to downplay the incident that they lost sight of how damaging that strategy would become if the video ever surfaced. But owner Steve Bisciotti basically admitted a during mea culpa news conference in late September that the team was partially blinded by its loyalty to the popular running back.

Really, as far as behavior of league officials is concerned, the only question that needed to be answered in the report was whether Goodell and the NFL's security staff were intentionally deceptive or just incredibly incompetent when it came to figuring out what happened in that Atlantic City elevator, and here's the rub. No matter what came out of that report, the general public had long since decided that the answer was both.

Did we really need a smoking gun when we already saw the punch?

Of course, the real point of the investigation was to clear Goodell of suspicion that he knew more than he was willing to admit when he originally suspended Rice for just two games for the elevator assault.

It worked on that level — sort of — but the problem with a supposedly exhaustive, "independent" investigation is that it has to look exhaustive and independent, so the one thing that was certain to come out of it is an opportunity for everyone to wallow in the scandal one more time for no productive reason.

The great irony involved in commissioning the Mueller investigation was that Goodell was looking for a way to restore his credibility and he apparently didn't realize that the only way anyone was going to feel comfortable with the resulting report was if it didn't end up looking like the last brushstroke in a poorly orchestrated whitewash.

It didn't, but only because the report pointedly criticized the league and the team for doing so little to connect the dots and present a clear picture of what actually happened in that elevator.

The other thing Goodell didn't seem to get was that the public furor over the Rice situation would eventually die down and a lengthy investigation would simply keep the scandal alive well beyond its normal media shelf life.

This is all faintly reminiscent of baseball's Mitchell Report, which catalogued all of the known instances of steroid abuse and drug trafficking in Major League Baseball long after the sport had been thoroughly disgraced by huge performance-enhancing drug scandals in New York and San Francisco. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig essentially paid former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell and his staff millions to write a lengthy research paper telling everyone what they already knew and would just as soon forget.

In that case, Selig felt that baseball needed to come clean and the report did — if nothing else — give the impression that Major League Baseball was no longer in denial about the steroid era.

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In this case, Goodell was facing suspicion that he and members of his staff knew what was on the infamous second Ray Rice elevator video early on and conspired to minimize the impact of the scandal on the image of the NFL. Hiring Meuller was simply Goodell's quick-fix way of projecting to the public that he had nothing to hide.

Since then, the ruling by arbitrator Barbara S. Jones to vacate Rice's indefinite suspension pretty much established that league officials had enough information about the elevator assault without the second video and simply panicked when it went public right before Rice was set to come back from his ridiculously-light two-game suspension.

It seemed pretty important in early September whether the NFL and the Ravens tried hard enough to obtain that video, but it has long since been established that they did not. What's more damning is the way both entities initially sought to treat the situation as a public relations problem rather than the tip of the domestic violence iceberg in the NFL and throughout society.

Of course, we all know that now and didn't really need an expensive investigation to prove it.

The question remains the same as three months ago: Has the NFL learned anything from this situation, and will it be better prepared in the future to deal with the scourge of domestic violence and other hot-button societal problems, such as sexual abuse?

The answer to each part of that question is a qualified yes, but the NFL still has a lot of work to do to create a more credible disciplinary system than the one that left Goodell looking so arbitrary and uninformed in September.

It should include a truly independent appeals process and a security apparatus that is totally independent of the league's image machine. Then, maybe, the league won't ever have to hire an "independent" investigator again.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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